Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Called that putt too early

Last week I mourned the sad demise of Avalon Games, a local mom-and-pop-esque gaming store. I also mentioned the vanishing of its evil older cousin, Horizon Games. I was upset at these events, you'll recall.

Well, René pointed out right away that Horizon Games wasn't closed at all, they just moved to a new location off the feeder road a few blocks away. And while driving past the old Avalon Games today, I noticed people moving things in and out of the store and a huge yellow sign that said PREDATOR GAMES OPEN THIS SATURDAY.


In other news, when I got to Pizza Inn today, Ali had the television on (as he usually does) CNN Headline News. They were talking, of course, about Virginia Tech.

First of all, the story is emotional enough, and the various anchors and reporters were conveying the proper note of empathy and sympathy. But they replaced their normal bumper music with this faux-Richard Marx twinkly piano shit that was the fakest attempt at emotion I've ever heard.

But mostly, the coverage was classy and subdued. The news that the guns used in the massacre were purchased and acquired legally surprised no one in the room.

Following that news hour came the show belonging to Glenn Beck, the Most Obnoxious Man on Television. Seeing the pain coming, I told Airfon, "If that asshole says that the solution to this problem is less gun control and more guns, I'm going to scream."

But Glenn Beck wasn't there -- some bald wingnut I saw on Real Time a few weeks ago was guest hosting. Among the first words out of this mouth: "Tonight, we'll speaking with Ted Nugent."

I screamed.

Monday, April 16, 2007


The Chicago Cubs spent roughly eighteen bazillion dollars in the offseason, loading up their roster with as much talent as they could. This year, by god, the Cubs will be contenders!

And then, of course, Kerry Wood got hurt...again. And then Mark Prior got hurt...again. And now, their crown jewel, Alfonso Soriano -- they gave this guy $136 million to bat in the wrong spot in the lineup (leading off, when he would clearly benefit the team more hitting third or fourth) and play out of position (in center field, despite the fact that (a) he's a second baseman, and not a bad one at that, and (b) the Nationals forced him to play left field last year and he hated it), and guess what.

Yes, he's only day-to-day, and it's only April 16. But still -- bwahahaha!

And hey, the Astros won tonight -- they loaded the bases in the ninth with no one out, Morgan Ensberg came up, and the Voyeur actually got a base hit to drive in the winning run! Will wonders never cease?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Weekly iPod Shuffle: 4/14/07 (Special Expanded Meme Edition)

To spruce up this week's shuffle, I'm borrowing a meme that has swept over a quarter of my readership. (That fourth, of course, is Lucas, one of my four readers. I thank you: now I can be lazy and unoriginal at the same time!)

Essentially, I answer each question with a random song from my library, providing accompanying lyrics and commentary for each. As always, you're invited to play along at home.

How do you feel emotionally? - "Heaven Is a Better Place Today," The Tragically Hip
A toonie to the busker and a husky "Keep it comin'" under my breath
Then say, "But if you wouldn't mind, less cryin' and more tryin'
More tryin' and less cryin'"

Over the past six months, I've used less bitching about my own circumstances and more actual effort to change things -- getting a second job, for instance. The result is a better situation, with means that most of the time these days I am -- like today -- pretty pleased. Go figure.

(Oh, a toonie, by the way, is Canadian slang for their two-dollar coin. In case you were puzzled.)

How do you feel about your life? - "Don't Tread on Me," Metallica
So be it
Settle the score
To secure peace is
To prepare for war

I do tend to have a scorched earth attitude when it comes to certain people in my life -- I hold a grudge like no one I know.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now? - "All My Friends," Counting Crows
At seventeen had a better dream
Now I'm thirty-three, and it isn't me
But I'd think of something better if I could
All my friends and lovers leave me behind
And I'm still looking for a girl
One way or another, I'm just hoping to find
A way to put my feet out in the world

Exactly. Pessimist much.

Describe your sex life. - "Ring of Fire," Johnny Cash
Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire


Describe your personality. - "Eat It," "Weird Al" Yankovic
How come you're always such a fussy young man?
Don't want no Capt'n Crunch, don't want no Raisin Bran
Well, don't you know that other kids are starving in Japan?
So eat it, just eat it

Okay: is this saying that I'm a humorous smart-ass? Or that I'm fat? 'Cause, really, either side has a good argument to make. (Not joking: I'm eating a Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger as I'm writing this. My iPod has become fully sentient. Run!)

What's the meaning of life? - "No Leaf Clover," Metallica and the San Fransisco Symphony Orchestra
And it comes to be
That the soothing light
At the end of your tunnel
Was just a freight train
Coming your way

Couldn't have said it better myself.

What do you have to offer the world? - "Intermittently," Barenaked Ladies
Every morning I just
Hit the ground yawning

Nothing much, really.

What do you think of love? - "Four Sticks," Led Zeppelin
Oh, baby, it's cryin' time
Oh, baby, I got to fly
Got to try to find a way
Got to try to get away
Cause you know I got to get away from you, babe

Pain. Pain, and misery. Run, run, run. Yeah, that's not too far off.

What do you hate? - "What is Pornography?" Bill Hicks
No one knows what pornography is. Supreme Court says pornography is any act which has no artistic merit and causes sexual thoughts. That's their definition, essentially: no artist merit, causes sexual thoughts. Hmm...sounds like...every fucking commercial on TV, doesn't it?

Oddly enough, I do indeed hate that. Not porno -- the bizarre hypocrisy of our culture; the one that will put any kind of rampant, blatant sexuality in the media, in commercials, in music, on television, and then turn around and go into national apoplexy when someone's nipple becomes exposed for a few seconds during the Super Bowl. Anyone who can explain that to me can go right ahead.

Are you religious? - "Kyur4 TH Ich," Linkin Park
[The song has no lyrics.]

An instrumental. Perhaps because the answer -- "Um, no." -- is painfully obvious to anyone who's spoken to me for more than fifteen minutes? I don't know, my iPod is calling the shots.

What makes you happy? - "Heresy," Pantera
They can lick my sack

Ah! -- one question late, Pantera.

What pisses you off? - "Trapped Under Ice," Metallica
Freezing, can't move at all
Screaming, can't hear my call
I am dying to live
Cry out, I'm trapped under ice

Being trapped, being stuck in a bad situation-- pisses me right the fuck off, actually.

What scares you? - "Tear Stained Letter," Johnny Cash
I'm gonna write a tear stained letter,
I'm gonna tell you one more time.
That you still could reconsider,
And come back to bein' mine.
An' if you think about what I'm sayin',
It'd be hard to refuse.

That, and wasps.

What is your best quality? - "Tell Me Why," Genesis
Who would think it still could happen
Even in this time and place?
Politicians, they may save themselves
But they won't save their face
So hope against hope it's not too late

That good old-fashioned liberal rage. Keith Olbermann would be proud.

What is your worst quality? - "What a Letdown," Barenaked Ladies
Even if I let this settle, it'll lead to a little fight
Even when I get to meddlin' I need to remain polite
I could cut across this field but it hits pretty close to home
Maybe if I jiggle it a little it'll open up on its own

My own procrastination and fear of confrontation. Yeah, okay.

What qualities do you look for in a friend? - "Together," The Raconteurs
And we'll always endeavor
Throughout any kind of weather

Says it all.

How do people perceive you? - "A Rush of Blood to the Head," Coldplay
So I'm gonna buy a gun and start a war

You have no idea how many times I've heard people say of me, "One of these days, man, J.'s just gonna lose it and go postal on everyone." Not true, but that's how people perceive me, it seems.

And finally...

How do you see the world? - "You," Radiohead
You, me and everything caught in the fire

I can see me drowning, caught in the fire
You, me and everything caught in the fire
and I can see me drowning, caught in the fire

As before: pessimist much.

Thank you for reading, as always.

The worst person in the world

(My sister doesn't read my blog. But if she did, she'd cry when she read this story. If you're especially fond of cats, I wouldn't read this story.)

This friend of mine I work with at Pizza Inn is currently looking for a new place to live. He was living with his mom and his mom's fiancé, but has abruptly decided to move away.

See, he had this cat. The cat was sick, almost certainly dying, and he didn't have the money to get it treated. The fiancé felt the cat should be put down, but my friend argued, for obvious emotional reasons. My friend made a few other suggestions, including dropping the cat off at the SPCA or an animal shelter -- he'd still lose the cat, but someone would at least try to take care of it. Decision still unmade, he went to work.

But when he got to Pizza Inn (this was on Thursday), my boss sent him back home -- his shirt was covered in cat hair, and needed to be cleaned. So home he went.

Where he found the decision regarding the cat had been made for him. Because the fiancé killed it. By shooting it. He shot the fucking cat in the head.

Words fail.

My friend is, at the moment, considering taking a well-paying job in Dallas. Anything to get out of here.

What a complete bastard. I mean, yeah, the cat was sick, sure. But there were other ways. And this is all sidestepping the fact that it wasn't even his cat! I don't care how sick the animal is, you don't just murder somebody's cat.

Several of us at Pizza Inn wanted to put together a posse to fuck that guy up. But it my friend's mother's fiancé -- anything done to him (like calling the cops, which I suggested) hurts her, too.

So he's just going to get the fuck out of here. I don't blame him.

Repugnant behavior.

Abstract statistical analysis in action

This post is about video games, baseball, video game baseball, and how much of a dork I truly am. If that bothers you, you should skip this one.

I've been rereading one of my favorite baseball books recently, Baseball Between the Numbers, a hefty tome regarding statistical analysis and its use in modern major league baseball. Essentially, a team of writers invent roughly eight thousands new stats (and this is baseball, a sport already drowning in stats) to explain various aspects of the game. In several chapters, they take conventional baseball wisdom and use their shiny new stats to chuck it into the toilet.

According to them, these new strategies would help teams win games. I've decided to test two of those strategies, with the help of MLB 2K7, on the PS2. I'm going to run a season with the Astros according to Baseball Between the Numbers methodology. We'll see how it works.

I'm not going to play every single game – that would take forever, and would also distort the results, since the game is often depressingly easy, even on its hardest difficulty setting. Instead, I'll use the Manage option for each game – I'll make all of Phil Garner's decisions, while the computer will simulate the game itself. This is perfect, because the two theories I'm testing are managerial decisions.

Theory 1: Batting order doesn't matter. They do exhaustive research and number crunching and prove that, at best, the difference between an optimal lineup and a least optimal lineup gets is two or three wins a year. Their choice for an optimal lineup? The nine hitters ranked in descending order of on-base percentage. The higher you are in the order, the more at-bats you get; the higher your OBP, the more you get on base; the more runners you get on base, the more runs you score; the more runs you score, the more games you win.

So: this season, I'll send the Astros out to bat in order of their OBP. I'll start of the season with last year's number, and then adjust it periodically. (I'll leave it the way it is for the first ten games of the season, to give the stats a chance to develop, then start shifting after each game.)

In descending order of on-base percentage, then, here is your counter-intuitive Astros starting lineup.

  1. Lance Berkman, 1B (.421)
  2. Luke Scott, RF (.418)
  3. Morgan Ensberg, 3B (.393)
  4. Carlos Lee, LF (.359)
  5. Chris Burke, CF (.326)
  6. Brad Ausmus, C (.302)
  7. Craig Biggio, 2B (.298)
  8. Adam Everett, SS (.286)
  9. Pitcher's spot

Weird, huh? Berkman certainly isn't your prototypical leadoff man. A couple things: I thought about using career OBP, rather than last year's, but decided against it because of Craig Biggio. His career numbers are skewed by his earlier, better seasons, and his .354 career OBP is clearly not representative of his current ability. Also, it's very possible that Brad Ausmus's surprisingly high OBP is a result of frequently batting in front of either the pitcher or Adam Everett – if the guy hitting behind you is an automatic out, you're far more likely to draw walks. His batting average last year was only .230, which would seem to prove this. But the theory is the theory, so he remains in the six spot.

Theory 2: Only using your closer in a save situation is idiotic, and a waste of your relief ace. The theory says that the most important pitching situation in a game is rarely in the ninth inning – it might happen in the eighth, or the seventh, or even the sixth. Since managers (and closers, too) are stuck in the Saves mindset, inferior pitchers will be used in these situations, and cost you games.

So Brad Lidge (oh, man, I can hear you grumbling and grinding your teeth when I write his name – listen, listen: Brad Lidge. Ooh, that's creepy.) will be used earlier and more often in non-save situations. I'll spare you the deluge of numbers on how and why he'll be used, but there's a giant two-and-a-half page chart (pages 66-68) that explains exactly when he should be brought in, depending on the inning, the outs, the runners on, and the score. Also, it varies depending on when he pitched last, and if there's a game tomorrow.

I know what you're saying ('cause I can hear it, remember): "Brad Lidge sucks!" Certainly seems that way. But the computer-simulated MLB 2K7 Lidge isn't quite as ineffectual as his real-life counterpart, so don't count him down yet. And if it doesn't work out, I can always trade him.

Other than that, I'll try to adhere as closely as possible to standard baseball logic and strategy, at least as I interpret it. Will it be an interesting experiment? Or a boring wankathon? Your guess is as good as mine. (I'm guessing wankathon.)

(There's another theory I badly wanted to test: that a four-man starting rotation is better than a five-man, if properly used and monitored. Unfortunately, the video game is designed for a five-man rotation, and starters are pretty much required to get four days of rest before they can be used again. Oh well.)

The first four games

The real Astros were beaten in each of the four games of the year. We'll see how the fake Astros do.

I check the Team Pulse before starting the season to check my team's morale with the new lineup. Everyone seems happy, except, hilariously, Brad Ausmus, who's been moved up in the order. (He probably sees through his high OBP, too.)

Berkman makes me look a genius by walking to lead off the bottom of the first against the Pirates, but the next three guys go in order and make me look stupid again. And I continue to look dumber as the game goes on, as the Astros can't get anybody on base at all. I end up losing 5-0, only collecting five hits – and four of them are by the bottom third of my order. (Berkman and Lee each drew a walk, as did Ausmus and Everett.)

The second game does me no favors, either, as my bullpen collapses in spectacular fashion: Chad Qualls gives up six runs in one inning of work, tanking the game completely. Following the book's rules for use of the closer (he hasn't worked in more than five days, and there is an off-day in the next two days), I bring in Lidge for the ninth; he does exactly what you think he would do, giving up a run and four hits. Not that it matters, because I lose 11-4. The Pirates collected 23 hits. That's bad, obviously, but I managed 10, plus four more walks and two hit batsmen – the Astros are certainly putting people on base, they're just having trouble getting them home.

(At this point, I'm interrupted by a phone call from FRINAN. I share my experiment with him, and he informs me of another problem with it: I'm playing as the Astros. Too true, too true.)

Game three is even uglier, somehow. I finally get the bats working, with seven runs and 19 hits, but my pitching is, um, shall we say, god-awful. I lose 15-7. To the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And then I lose in unceremonious fashion to the Cardinals, 6-0. I've been shutout twice in four games, and never even been close to winning any of them. Good work, Baseball Between the Numbers!

More on this experiment as it continues. If it continues. It's kind of frustrating.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The perfection of the metaphor boggles the mind

About a year ago, I switched to a hyper-cool houston-astros.net e-mail address. While signing up for this free service, my laptop's keyboard developed schizophrenia. When you hit the right arrow, the cursor goes right, then left...sometime right, then left twice. When you hit the down arrow, it hits down and left at the same time. When you hit the END key, it hits SHIFT at the same time. When you hit HOME, it also hits DEL for you. Some of the letter keys are like this, too, but not all of them, and not all the time. I use an external keyboard now.

Also, I've received complaints -- well, it wasn't really a complaint, per se, 'cause it was FRINAN, and I have the feeling he didn't mind all that much -- that my e-mails weren't getting to their destinations. At all. Maybe this happened, maybe it didn't. But I've grown weary of my houston-astros.net address working exactly as well as the Houston Astros bullpen, so I've switched to Gmail.

So I'm now at evilgenius815@gmail.com. You can still e-mail me through the old Astros address if you want, though I can't assure you I'll actually get it.

René: I sent your spiffy one-off Hunter character yesterday. If you didn't get it, you should probably send me a message.

Monday, April 09, 2007

And now where can I buy DOOM: The Board Game?

So a few weeks ago, FRINAN and I went to Avalon Games, our conveniently located hometown games store, to check out what new Mage supplements they'd got in. I'd already spent something like $80 in the previous week on a stack of books, and FRINAN wanted to look for a few himself.

But when we arrived, we were greeted with sad, sad news -- Avalon Games was closed for business. An apologetic -- yet bitter -- sign hung in the window. WE'RE SORRY FOR OUR LOYAL CUSTOMERS, it read. EVERYONE ELSE CAN GO PLAY THEIR GAMES ON WAL*MART'S TABLES.

We were sad. I mean, we never spent that much time -- or money, really -- at Avalon. We didn't buy that many books, nor did we have use for their tables. (Especially with their NO SWEARING rule -- the fuck?) But when we did buy them, we liked to buy them there. I mean, it was right there!

"Dammit," FRINAN said. "Now we have to go to Horizon Games."

Horizon Games is far away. Horizon Games is staffed by unfriendly people. Horizon Games will offer to order whatever book you want ('cause Horizon Games will never, ever have it in stock), but Horizon Games will never actually order it, and Horizon Games will never actually get the book in. FRINAN doesn't like Horizon Games.

Well, today I saw that FRINAN doesn't have to go to Horizon Games, because Horizon Games is closed, too. No sign in the window, no nothing -- just gone.

I don't know when it happened. I don't know why it happened. But...dammit. Where are all the games stores going?

Now we have to buy directly from White Wolf. Which is convenient and all, yeah, but...dammit, I liked going to the gaming store! Most of the RPG supplements I've ever bought were impulse buys -- "Oooh, that looks cool!" It's a lot harder to do an impulse buy on the internet. Plus, I can't skim through the book over the web. I liked doing that.

Well, at least one thing is good -- I've finally justified buying all those ten-sided dice I've bought over the years. 'Cause I've got nowhere to buy them anymore.

Seriously, I've got, like, fifty.

For real.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Shame about it, born under a bad sign with a blue moon in your eye, so sing it now

So, tonight's the big night: The Sopranos, the most obscenely praised drama since the invention of the moving image, begins its final season tonight. Of course, I wouldn't be mentioning it unless all that praise was deserved, which it largely is.

And thankfully, I managed to stumble across this video, which neatly and comprehensively summarizes everything that's come before, which is both a great refresher for the stuff I forgot and a nice fill-in-the-blanks for the stuff I missed (i.e., the last season and a half, and most of the fourth season, for that matter).

Gotta love that Arrested Development music cue, huh? And ye gods, I forgot how truly complex this show is.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Weekly iPod Shuffle: 4/7/07

1. "Grace, Too," The Tragically Hip
The first song I ever heard by the Hip, when they played it on SNL oh-so-many years ago. While they're a fantastic live band, this song is probably the one that translates to the stage best -- at the show at Scout Bar, this led off the encore, and the crowd was practically screaming the lyrics back at Gordie.

2. "Sympathy for the Devil," The Rolling Stones
Continuing on a theme, sorta, this is the first song I ever liked by the Stones -- I grew sick of "Brown Sugar" and "Satisfaction" long before I was at an age where I could appreciate them. But "Sympathy" sounded so different from everything else that it managed to grab my attention. The Guns N' Roses cover from Interview with the Vampire isn't half-bad, either.

3. "I'm Talking to the Women Here," Bill Hicks
A short snippet from the posthumous Rant in E-Minor, this is the conclusion to a piece about COPS, which ends with Bill in disbelief over women who put with drunken rednecks who beat them. He then references an earlier slam against then-popular country star Billy Ray Cyrus, saying, "You know what, I know you like Billy Ray Cyrus, don't lie to me." The crowd boos, and Bill clarifies, "No, I'm talking to the women, here." The woman scream back, and Bill answers, "Bullshit. Fuck you, you do. Oh, yeah, he sold five million albums, and all the guys here bought 'em. Fuck you! ...No wonder this country's becoming like Dogpatch if that's who you want to rut with."

4. "Let Down," Radiohead
One of the most gloriously emotional songs ever recorded. Allegedly (and I can't remember where I read this), singer Thom Yourke recorded two takes of the vocal, then collapsed on the floor of the studio and cried. I'd believe it, listening the last verse and chorus.

5. "Save the Planet," The Tragically Hip
The only Hip song to feature a flute solo, to my knowledge. That's all I can say, really. Not one of my favorites.

6. "Adversity," René Alvarado
Hey, René made it. My iPod likes you. One of your better pieces, too -- it's nice and grandiose, which I like. There's also a considerable feeling of menace (or malice, if you prefer) that I quite enjoy, and I love the ending. The strings arrangement you did doesn't quite do it for me, but hey, that's just me.

7. "Fakin' It," Simon & Garfunkel
You know, I love Simon & Garfunkel, but dammit if most of their material doesn't sound exactly the same. This song has drums -- not all of their songs have drums. It's good, yeah, but it's no "The Boxer" or "The Only Living Boy in New York." Or "Baby Driver," for that matter.

8. "Pulling Teeth," Green Day
Hey, remember when Green Day was just a trio of snot-nosed kids from Berkley, back before they were rock opera composers that could honestly say they were screwed out of Album of the Year? Junior high school was awesome. No, it wasn't. But this song is.

9. "Amazed," The Offspring
One of two power ballads off of Ixnay on the Hombre, which was the last record on which the Offspring were really any good at all. Despite the fact that it sounds like a long-lost Whitesnake b-side, it's not a bad track.

10. "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party," The Beatles
You could always count on the young John Lennon to write a bouncy, snappy pop song that will depress the shit out of you if you listen too closely to the lyrics. Hell, the first Lennon song on the first Beatles album was called "Misery," so you can't say you're surprised. This is one of my favorite early Beatles songs, and one of the many that got name-dropped during the infamous Beatles song titles scene in Revolver.


Yeah, it's baseball season. The 'stros are 0-4. Stop me if you've heard this one before: great starting pitching, no offense, shaky (at best) bullpen, the citizens of Houston want to crucify Brad Lidge. Same as it ever was.

Shuffle later, when I get home from work. And perhaps more on the Astros, who, really, haven't been playing that badly.

But Brad. Come on, buddy.